The Problem With Experts

Sam Frentzel-Beyme Follow Managing Partner & Strategy Director

The Short of It

  • Ford believed that if you thought you were an expert that showed that you actually weren't.
  • Expertise, while valuable, can often lead to thinking that pushes less against the boundaries of impossible.
  • Introducing non-expert thinking allows a sense of professional naivete and curiosity to grow and develop.

I came across this great quote by Henry Ford:

"None of our men are experts. We have most unfortunately found it necessary to get rid of a man as soon as he thinks himself an expert because no one ever considers himself expert if he really knows his job...Thinking always ahead, thinking always of trying to do more, brings a state of mind in which nothing is impossible."

If we look at some of the most interesting work in any field, its usually being done by people who are directly familiar with a field, but are no longer working in it. They are freely building on the outside because they are no longer limited by the walls that held them in.

This does a couple interesting things.

First, it really opens up the possibilities and creates an environment where professional naivete and curiosity is encouraged. And second, even more importantly, I believe, organizations that are lead by people who are in search of true answers don’t care where they come from and this can have a tremendous impact on the psychology of the teams themselves.

Let’s use two teams as an example.

Team A is lead by someone who is an expert in a specific field who is working in the profession and knows exactly how everything should and should not be done. On this team, you will be encouraged to understand these constraints and practice within them. As a person who does not have the same level of expertise or knowledge (ie: you’re not the leader), your input will be taken, but not necessarily into consideration.

On Team B, you have the exact same expert with the exact same knowledge of the field. The difference is that this person is working outside of the profession and as such doesn’t believe that there is any kind of map. He or she has ideas on direction, but is looking for fresh questions and thinking not only to bring the right answers, but, more importantly, the right questions. On this team you are not just expected to bring your skills and experience, but to contribute equally to building whatever knowledge is required to solve the problem.

Which team would you want to be on?

It’s important to have a deep understanding of your field and chosen profession. But not to the extent that it limits your ability to be open to the possibilities.

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